The Coach’s couch: James Horan

Drico ‘an All-Black in other colours’

Bravest coaching call, any sport?

Brian Cody immediately comes to mind. Not for one call in particular, just for the regularity of brave calls he’s made. He’s let the likes of Denis Byrne, Charlie Carter, Brian McEvoy and Cha Fitzpatrick go or walk when the public perception would have been those players still had plenty of inter-county hurling left in them. He doesn’t care who you are or how much you’ve won for him before, only will you help Kilkenny win All-Irelands in the future.

One free to win it, one player to take it (not one of your own players)?

Peter Canavan. I’ve seen him miss the odd free but never a pressure free. If you needed it, you’d know he’d nail it, every time.

Greatest pressure free you’ve seen, hurling or football?

Derek Duggan of Roscommon in the 1991 Connacht final against Mayo. His team were a point behind, deep into injury-time, he was 65 yards out, a stiff breeze in his face, the ball was heavy from all the rain that day, and on top of all that, he was only 19. And yet he nailed it. It didn’t just go over, it kept going and hit the top end of the protective netting which was a good bit back behind the goals. It’s one of the best scores ever in championship football.

On top of that he went on to kick the winning free in the replay. And then in the All Ireland semi-final against Meath he scored a brilliant drop-kick goal.

The best ref around? Why?

Alain Rolland in rugby, and not just because he’s Irish. You can see he’s played the game at a high level, you can see him talking to the players, he knows what the players are trying to do, when they’re being genuine and when they’re not. There’s no real communication like that with refs in the GAA. I know for years they were unfairly abused and disrespected, but now if a player or manager approaches them in even a measured, respectful way, too often they’re just waved off; it’s automatically either a yellow card or 13 metres for dissent.

Managerial challenges: Keane and McCarthy in Saipan. Who was right?

Every manager worth his salt will point out that we don’t know all the circumstances. The one thing I will say is that for the captain of the team to be causing that amount of upset and unrest that close to a major tournament, he couldn’t have been thinking of the team first. McCarthy mightn’t have been fully in the right but Keane certainly wasn’t right.

Who’s the most underrated sportsman in Ireland?

I think Alan Dillon is completely underrated. He’s been one of the best half-forwards in the country for nearly 10 years now yet you’ll hardly ever hear him described as that. But mention of half-forwards, I still don’t think Michael Donnellan got the credit he deserved. He was a phenomenon; to be able to win balls in front of your own full-back line and then take off and score them in the full-forward line? Incredible. He dominated games for three or four years there like no one has since. Longevity is perhaps the only thing that will count against his greatness, but for me he was a supreme footballer.

The ugliest moment in sport?

I’d be a big Brian O’Driscoll fan so to see his 2005 Lions Tour be finished by a spear tackle and for the transgressor to go unpunished I thought was a sad moment. I’d be a huge fan of New Zealand rugby but that incident diminished that series in my eyes.

An extra ticket falls into your lap for your favourite sports event — what sportsperson would you bring along?

I’d love to meet LeBron James. Along with Messi, I think he’s probably the most phenomenal sportsperson in team sport right now. He seems to be a smart, interesting guy who has learned the hard way and I’d like to hear him talk about his path to becoming a champion.

The worst choke of all time?

Doug Sanders in the 1970 British Open. No other sport leaves you as vulnerable to the choke as golf. Your mind races, your hands shake, the knees wobble: it’s why there’s such a long list of players choking under pressure: van de Velde, Greg Norman, Adam Scott just last month. But Sanders to me is the saddest of the lot.

He took four shots from 80 yards on the last. He had a three-foot putt to win it but he missed and never won it or any other Major as it turned out. He won something like 20 PGA tournaments, had a lot of top-ten finishes in the Majors and was known for years as the Peacock of the Fairways but now history just knows him as the guy who blew the Open. He’s admitted himself there’s not a day goes by that he doesn’t think of it because there’s not a day he’s not reminded of it. There’s something very cruel about that, how a fine career can be reduced to just a moment.

The one player in any sport you’d love to coach?

Any of the All Blacks. My mother is from New Zealand, it’s where my father met her when he headed down there as a young farmer, I was born there myself, so New Zealand rugby is a big thing in our family.

I’d love to coach someone like Brian O’Driscoll as well. To me he’s the package. At first he came along as this skilful, swashbuckling young fella but he’s brilliant to do the grunt work too. As a competitor, he’s so mentally tough. He’s had to come back repeatedly from some horrendous injuries. He’s smart, he’s brave, he’s cool, he’s class in everything, and, he’s won. He’s an All Black, really, just one that wears other colours.

Your dream selector not counting your current ones?

Pep Guardiola. He has a great philosophy towards football, about how to treat players and he’s cool and calm and calculated which is vital watching a game from the line.

The one sports moment you wouldn’t wipe from the VCR?

Probably the 1987 Rugby World Cup. That tournament stands out, especially for Michael Jones’ contribution. He scored the first try of the tournament and he scored the first try in the final. Then he scored the first try in the 1991 World Cup but missed three games in that tournament because of his Christian beliefs and all those games were fixed on a Sunday. He was a phenomenal player, arguably the greatest flanker ever, and he was probably at his height in ‘87, so that tape invokes a lot of memories for me.

The one sports moment you’d visit if you had a time machine?

Tiger Woods at the 1997 US Masters. To dominate a tournament like that, at such a young age, was incredible. I know Rory McIlroy has since won major tournaments by a big margin but Tiger won his first by 12 shots, not ‘just’ eight. Twelve! The man changed golf, simple as that. I wouldn’t be quite as big a fan of him as I once was, but you still want to see him in the hunt, in red, on the last day of a major.

I’d love to have seen Michael Jordan at the height of his powers too, just seeing someone who stands above the rest in their sport even though that sport is so competitive. It’s an ambition of mine in the years ahead, to go to the Olympics and the World Cup and the golf Majors and see the best in the world at their best.

The one sports moment that’s more overrated than any other?

The English Premier League is overrated and overhyped. It can be good but not anywhere near as good as it’s hyped. Take the top five teams out of it and the other teams are technically very limited. I know you could say anyone in La Liga outside of Barcelona and Madrid aren’t much either but they’re still good to watch, there’s still some brilliant technical players to see there. The English game is more blood and thunder which wouldn’t be my preference.


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